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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 12:20 GMT
'Anti-Semitic' French envoy under fire
Queen Elizabeth receiving French ambassador Daniel Bernard
Undiplomatic remarks allegedly came from the French ambassador
An international spat has developed over disparaging comments about Israel allegedly made by the French ambassador to London at a private dinner party.

He has no intention of apologising - he doesn't feel there is any need for him to do so

Yves Charpentier
French embassy
During a conversation about the Middle East crisis with the owner of the Daily Telegraph newspaper, Conrad Black, ambassador Daniel Bernard is reported to have spoken about "that shitty little country Israel".

The buffet party comment subsequently became the subject of a Daily Telegraph column written by Mr Black's wife, journalist Barbara Amiel, who depicted her guest as an anti-Semite.

The remark has since sparked outrage in Israel - where the prime minister's spokesman has described it as "a pure anti-Semitic expression" - and among pro-Israeli British MPs, who have penned demands for Mr Bernard's resignation.

'Geographically small'

Daniel Bernard
Mr Bernard allegedly made the comments at a buffet party
Mr Bernard has not denied the remark. Initially he said he could not remember making it, but later insisted that what he said had been thoroughly distorted.

He says he is outraged that a private discussion found its way into the media, but has made clear he does not intend to apologise.

"He doesn't feel there is any need for him to do so," the ambassador's spokesman Yves Charpentier insisted.

"In the course of the discussion the ambassador referred to 'little Israel' in the sense that it is geographically small, but that nevertheless the scale of the consequences is huge and the repercussions around the world are tremendous," Mr Charpentier said.

Strong words

But Israel was in no doubt that the remark was meant as a criticism of the country, quickly branding it anti-Jewish.

Sharon and Chirac
Israel and France have had their diplomatic ups and downs
"I don't know that he said it, but if he did, it's a pure anti-Semitic expression," said Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The French Government, he said, "should draw the conclusions of a senior representative of a nation making an anti-Semitic remark".

Labour MPs in Britain who are members of the Friends of Israel group announced that the remarks were "eerily familiar from the French".

"He should resign immediately and I am writing to President Chirac to demand that if he does not resign then he should be sacked," said Gwyneth Dunwoody, president of the group.

But in Paris, the foreign ministry stood by Mr Bernard, dismissing the charges of anti-Semitism as "malevolent insinuations".

See also:

24 Feb 00 | Middle East
France offers troops for Mid-East
28 Jun 99 | Middle East
Israel snubs French envoy
05 Jul 01 | Middle East
Cool reception for Sharon in Europe
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